THE PRESENT AND PAST INTERTWINE
For Marco Alfieri, the repercussions of past mistakes have frozen him in place, enshrouding him in guilt. But a healing gift is his first ray of light – and hope. It enables him to cast his troubles aside to comfort a lost and grieving family that has literally landed on his doorstep. The unconditional love he receives from them gives Marco the strength and courage to begin to mend his own broken, estranged family. In the midst of this churning turmoil, he receives a stack of cryptic letters that introduce him to legendary ancestors he never knew he had. These letters spark him to board a plane to Spain in a quest to unravel the mystery of “The Six Gifts”, their remarkable origin and their enigmatic destiny.
BERRIES is a tale about learning to embrace the virtue of forgiveness. And like the gardens Marco comes to cultivate, forgiveness grows in fits and starts.
Excerpt From Part II : Berries
Flashback – 1970
Orange, gold and crimson leaves are falling from the trees above 13-year-old Marco’s head as he makes his way through backyards on his way home from the elementary school playground, where he was shooting hoops with his neighborhood pals. He scoots through the backyard of their crabby old neighbor lady, eyeballing her window as he climbs over the chain link fence that separates their property. She has a habit of sitting in wait for any trespasses on her property and chases away with a broom anyone who breaches the perimeter, all the while screaming Italian curse words at them.
Marco stops short as he walks along the side of the big, barn-shaped shed where his father stores the lawnmower, tools and miscellaneous junk. He can hear his father, Vito, and he thinks he recognizes the other voice as that of his Uncle Leo, Vito’s younger brother. They are arguing inside the shed. Marco tiptoes up to the small, dust-covered window on the side of the shed and peers through it. His tall, slender father is facing away from him, and his shorter, heftier Uncle Leo is standing at an angle that makes it safe for Marco to watch. He catches his breath so as not to be heard.
“I’ma da oldest son. Dad should leave it to me!” Vito barks.
Uncle Leo scoffs. “Why would he? All you ever show him is hatred.”
Marco knows they’re talking about his grandfather, Nico, who had recently passed away. He didn’t know the man, couldn’t recall ever meeting him. It is an unstated rule in the Alfieri house not to speak of their grandfather or their grandmother, Gianna, who passed away years ago. Marco doesn’t know why his grandparents’ names are taboo in his house, but he suspects it has something to do with Vito leaving his grandfather’s family business and moving to Connecticut to start his own. Even Uncle Leo is somewhat of a stranger to Marco. They’ve only seen each other a few times at extended family gatherings.
“He deserve it! Nudding I ever do good enough fo him!” Vito claims.
“Dat’s bullshit!” Leo counters. “He want you to work fo him! But no way you doin’ dat. No way you gonna live under his tumb, remember? It was you dat storm out da building and move to Connecticut! Why da hell he leave it to you?”
“Vaffanculo!” Fuck you! Vito delivers his vicious retort with a forceful shove against Leo’s shoulder, causing Leo to trip over the lawnmower behind him and fall backwards. From the force of his fall, pieces of old wood resting up against the wall scatter in all directions. A tall piece of molding catches a two by four that is lying in the rafters beneath the gambrel roof above. It rocks and then falls directly onto Leo’s head, leaving a deep gash above his right eye. Bright red blood begins to gush from the cut.
“Take it den, you fucking bastard! I can no trust you eder!” Vito stomps out of the shed and heads off toward the house leaving Leo dazed and bleeding on the shed floor.
Marco waits for his father to close the back door to the house behind him and then he slinks into the shed. Blood is streaming from Leo’s forehead. Marco rips off his plaid shirt and pushes it up against the cut. Leo grabs hold of the shirt and Marco’s other outstretched hand to try and stand. But he’s too woozy and he immediately falls back down. Blood from Leo’s hand smears the front of Marco’s white undershirt.
“You need to go to the hospital,” Marco says.
Leo slips the plaid shirt to one side so that he can see Marco with his left eye. “Can you get me to ma car?” he asks.
Marco turns toward the driveway and sees Leo’s olive-green Pontiac Le Mans parked in front. “I think so,” he responds. “You’ll need to help me get you up, though. Brace yourself here.” Marco points to a solid toolbox that Leo can use to hoist himself up. The two of them struggle, but finally get Leo to his feet. Marco pulls one of his uncle’s arms around his neck and, hobbling, escorts him to the car, keeping an eye out for Vito on the way. He doesn’t know what his dad will do to him if he sees him helping his Uncle Leo.
“You gotta drive,” Leo instructs.
“I can’t drive,” Marco responds with a confused look on his face.
“You gonna have to kid. I can no see too good and I’ma little woozy.”
Marco’s heartbeat ratchets up as he walks his uncle to the passenger side and loads him into the car. Fear turns to excitement when the fact that he’s actually going to drive sinks in. He keeps one eye on the house as he pulls the shift lever to put the car in reverse. When he presses his foot on the gas, the Le Mans jerks backwards a little too fast. It’s in the street quicker than Marco judged.
“Careful kid. Not so hard on da pedal.”
Marco slides the shifter down to “Drive” and the car jerks forward down the street. He knows the way to the hospital. He’d gone with his mother when his little brother, Johnny, stuck a BB up his nose, and again when his little sister had fallen on a picket fence and sliced her chin open. Marco sits as tall in the seat as he can, his eyes darting from the windshield to the rearview mirror as he nervously drives the five miles to Yale-New Haven Hospital. He can’t believe his father isn’t hot on his tail.
At the emergency room, the nurses take control and wheel Leo off on a gurney. They don’t let Marco follow. Instead, they instruct him to wait in the lobby, where he sits in one of the orange-upholstered metal chairs and scuffs his feet back and forth on the linoleum floor in front of him. He’s sure he’s done the right thing by bringing his Uncle Leo here. But he’s not sure how his dad is going to see it.
Time passes slowly in the waiting room. People come and go, but Marco keeps his eyes lowered to avoid eye contact or conversation. Instead, he studies the blood on his white t-shirt and thinks about the fight between his father and his uncle. He knows that his grandfather had owned a construction business in New Jersey and that his Uncle Leo had worked for him until his grandfather grew old and retired. Then Leo took over. His grandfather must have left Leo the business or his house or another piece of property that his dad thought should be his. But Marco doesn’t know why his father would want something from his grandfather. Vito has his own business, a forklift company. He talks all the time about how successful he is and how he’s going to grow it into an empire.
A man in blue scrubs pushes through the swinging doors and approaches Marco. “Your uncle is a lucky man,” he informs him. “An inch closer and he could have lost his eye. He tells me you’re the one who brought him here.”
Marco shifts his gaze from the man to the floor. He doesn’t know if he should admit that, considering he doesn’t have a driver’s license.
The man waits for a response, but when he doesn’t get one, he continues. “It’ll probably be another hour before your uncle is able to leave here. We’ve got to make sure that he’s steady enough on his feet before we release him. Maybe you should call your parents to come pick you and your uncle up.”
Marco glances up at the man and then back down at his bloody t-shirt. He doesn’t respond.
“Well, your uncle shouldn’t be driving. I know that much. I’ll let you know when he’s ready to leave.” The hospital attendant eyes Marco for another minute and then he turns and pushes his way back through the swinging doors.
“Shit!” Marco says underneath his breath. He thinks about calling his parents but decides instead that it’s not a good idea. Who knows what they’ll do. He’s better off telling them that he got into a fight at the basketball court. That’ll explain the blood. And he can tell them that he hung out in the basement at Billy’s house for a while before he realized how late it was. But his Uncle Leo lives in New Jersey. There’s no way he can drive home alone. A woman comes in carrying a screaming child. Marco can’t help but look. The kid’s hand is wrapped in a towel that is soaked in blood. He hears the mother tell the lady at the desk that her son cut his middle finger off with a circular saw. Marco cringes and diverts his eyes. His stomach does a little lurch thing and he gets up to find the bathroom.
Eventually, Leo makes an appearance. His right eye is covered with a bandage, but he’s steady enough on his feet. “Hey kid, you still here, huh?”
Marco nods. It’s not like he had too many choices.
“Well, let’s go. I drive you home.” Leo waves his hand toward the glass doors.
“Are you sure you can drive?” Marco asks.
“Yeah, I be fine. I can see good outta ma left eye,” Leo jokes.
“Are you gonna drive all the way back to New Jersey?”
“Nah, I stay da night in a motel.”
Marco sighs as he climbs through the passenger door of the Le Mans. Leo shouldn’t have to stay at a motel.
“No worry, kid. I be fine. I rest up good and head back in da morning. I’ma go see a friend of mine in Brooklyn tomorrow. Isa girl I took in fo a while when she a teenager. I no see her in a few monts.”
“You took a teenager in?” It’s the first Marco’s ever heard about it. But then, he knows very little about his Uncle Leo, considering that he’s another family member rarely spoken of.
“Yep!” Leo responds with pride.
They drive through the streets of New Haven and over the Quinnipiac Bridge. It dawns on him that he drove over this bridge earlier. Boy, does he have a story to tell his friends. They’ll never believe it.
“I drop you off here,” Leo tells him a block from his house. “Dat way you dad no be da wiser.”
“Thanks,” Marco says gratefully.
Leo points at Marco’s bloody plaid shirt, which he’d set down next to him on the front seat when they’d gotten in the car. “You want I wash dis fo you and get it back some way? Probably hard enough to explain da blood on you t-shirt, let alone da amount of blood on dis.”
“That’d be good. Thanks.” Marco’s brain switches to coming up with an alibi for his plaid shirt. “On second thought,” he says, “just throw it away. I’ll tell my parents it got ripped in a fight and I threw it away in a garbage can.”
“Good idea,” Leo agrees with a grin and a twinkle in his good eye. “Hey Marco,” he yells as he pulls away. “I owe you one, kid.”